Ex-Chief Of News International Reported Arrested
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
Rupert Murdoch's media empire suffered another major blow today with the arrest of the former top executive of its British newspaper division. Rebekah Brooks, who resigned Friday, is chief executive of News International - is being questioned in London on suspicion of phone hacking and of bribing police officials, who have also been under fire for their role in the growing scandal.
NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik is following the story, and he joins us now. David, what's the latest?
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Well, I can just read you the lead off the BBC news website at the moment: Former News International Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks has been arrested in connection with an investigation into phone-hacking and bribery.
You know, as you know, this is the scandal that has engulfed the entire media empire of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. News International is the British newspaper division. Rebekah Brooks was the head of it, and she was also the chief editor at the tabloid News of the World - that has been shuttered because of its role in all this scandal - and in fact, was editor at the moment of some of the most egregious incidents that are alleged to have taken place.
WERTHEIMER: Now, Rebekah Brooks, I think we've all seen photographs of her - as sort of a tall woman with a lot of bright- red hair. I assume that this is incredibly important because it's sort of - every steps moves somewhat closer to Mr. Murdoch himself.
FOLKENFLIK: Well, that's right. I mean, she was seen as somebody who was unassailable in all this, that the Murdoch family Rupert Murdoch; his son, James, another senior News Corp. executive - would do everything in their power to protect. Indeed, when Rupert Murdoch flew to the U.K. last week to help direct crisis control there, he was asked what his top priority was in the U.K., as he came out with his arm around her. He pointed a thumb at her and said, her.
In addition, you know, she's also someone who is been both befriended and feared by everyone in the political establishment, from the prime minister on down. Her fall from grace and from power is astounding.
WERTHEIMER: What sort of effect might this have on the ongoing investigation? I guess one of the most awkward things is that she has been - she's potentially going to be charged with attempting to bribe the police, who arrested her.
FOLKENFLIK: That's correct. I think one of the things that people often overlook is that this is as much a police-corruption scandal as it is a phone-hacking scandal. That is, that News of the World reporters are alleged to have paid off police for information to get into databases, to give them private, secure information that wasn't supposed to get out.
And also, it appears as though there are very close links between News Corp. executives, such as Ms. Brooks, and very senior police officials - Scotland Yard, Metropolitan Police, these agencies which are supposed to, you know, investigate breaking of the law. Police officials are themselves under a lot of scrutiny right now and there's, you know, some question as to the timing of this arrest. It may also interfere with a broad-ranging parliamentary inquiry. She, after all, was summoned to testify two days - on Tuesday, before this committee. They had been intending, at least - or thinking about having her testify under oath. She may now credibly be able to claim that she cannot openly testify about these matters because she, herself, has been arrested.
WERTHEIMER: So David, we have reports of another arrest. There've been high-profile resignations among News Corp. executives. What's next?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, there are real questions about what senior News Corp. executives knew and when they knew it - in the old expression. Les Hinton resigned as the publisher of the Wall Street Journal, and the CEO of Dow Jones, just a few days ago because he had been her predecessor over the British newspaper division of News Corp. And he had represented to Parliament in 2007 and again in 2009 - amazingly, after revelations in the Guardian of how widespread this practice was at News of the World.
He said to Parliament, you know what? We believe this was limited to a single, rogue reporter. That, clearly, doesn't hold up anymore. Mr. Hinton says he didn't know. Rebekah Brooks says she didn't know. But the real question is about how credible that is. James Murdoch, who's the head of European operations, now, for News Corp. - and obviously, one of his father's closest aides - has also made representations to Parliament. He has said he was wrong and misinformed. He has expressed regret over that.
But the real question is whether or not this very broad-ranging criminal inquiry - multilayered - will turn up some evidence that he knew some more damaging material all along.
WERTHEIMER: NPR's David Folkenflik. Thank you very much for this.
FOLKENFLIK: You bet.
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